How do scissor jacks lift cars?

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There are two main kinds of car jack: those operated by screw and those operated by hydraulics. For standard road vehicles, the screw type is most common, often coming in the form of a scissor jack. Their popularity is a result of their ability to generate a great mechanical advantage – ie a large force amplification – from a manually operated arm tool.

These jacks work by using a two-piece mechanism – similar to those found on extending bathroom mirrors – in partnership with a self-locking central screw. Combined, these elements not only enable a vehicle to be lifted through the extension of the scissor mechanism, but also to be held in place by the resistive force of the screw, which without the jack would instantly collapse.

The central screw is also how the jack is operated, with an end-mounted circular ring designed to accept a large Allen key-shaped metal arm. When inserted and turned clockwise this arm drives the screw through the scissor mechanism’s central pivot points’ thread, elongating the jack and, thus, raising the vehicle. In contrast, rotating the screw counter-clockwise unthreads the screw, shortening the jack and, in turn, lowering the car to the ground.